Zdeno Chara is giving Father Time and Tom Brady a run for their money, chasing a championship at this advanced stage of his career and the ripe old age of 42. But it’s Lady Luck who caught up to him and knocked him off his skates, delivering a devastating blow to Chara and the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
The big man was felled by a fateful deflection 3 minutes and 7 seconds into the second period of the Bruins’ 4-2 loss in Game 4 Monday night in St. Louis. Chara used his cellphone-tower-like reach to stymie a Brayden Schenn shot, only to see the puck ricochet off his stick and crash into the side of his face in cringe-worthy and crimson fashion.
Vulcanized rubber reaching high velocity and impacting the human face is a sickening sight; so was Chara glued to the bench in a face shield worthy of NASA for the entire third period of a loss that evened this series at two games apiece.
Bad luck blindsiding Chara and the Bruins was a bitter reminder that it requires not only great talent but good health and good fortune to win multiple championships. It’s not just about the breaks and the bounces that go your way. It’s about the players that don’t get broken along the way and are able to bounce up unharmed after being in harm’s way.
You can’t quantify luck, but you can quantify that Chara’s absence for any period of time would leave a Black (and Gold) hole on the blue line. His injury changed the face of Game 4 and could change the face of the series.
There will be little sympathy for the Bruins’ pucks plight outside of New England. No sports fan in Boston can complain about unfavorable fortune. Fate has anointed us the favored fans of the 21st century with a dozen championships over the last 17 calendar years.
However, we’ve also seen titles incinerated by unexpected injury during that time. The New Big Three Celtics of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen went down as a one-title team expressly because fate stepped on their moment.
Center Kendrick Perkins suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter of Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, derailing the Celtics’ bid for a second championship in three years. Chara is a more accomplished player than Perkins ever was. However, both men occupied the vital role of defensive anchor and intimidating deterrent for their teams at the time they went down.
Hopefully, the Bruins, two wins shy of their second Stanley Cup this decade, can write a different ending than those Celtics, who never got that close to a second title again. Whether he can speak or not, Chara’s mangled mouth should be a rallying cry for the Bruins’ best players.
With Chara possibly missing more of the series or compromised for the rest of it, the remaining members of the team’s Foundational Five of Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Tuukka Rask — all of whom were on the team the last time the Bruins lifted Lord Stanley’s cherished silver chalice in 2011 — need to rise to the occasion.
With the exception of Rask, who is doing his best 2011 Tim Thomas impression and remains the clubhouse leader for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, all of those players played crucial roles when the Bruins last lifted the Cup.
Their need to do so again is further amplified by Chara’s injury.
The first line of Bergeron, Marchand, and David Pastrnak came alive in Game 3 with two goals and a 5-point night that sparked a 7-2 rout. Marchand and Bergeron combined to set up a brilliant shorthanded tally by Brandon Carlo that tied Game 4 in the second period.
The trio certainly was better in St. Louis than they were in Boston, but their impact has been muted considering their lofty status as the best line in hockey. All three are minus-players in the series, with Pastrnak a team-worst minus-4, dispelling the theory that whoever rides with Bergeron and Marchand is a plus player by association.
The last two times the Bruins skated for the Cup, Krejci led all scorers in playoff points, tallying 23 in 2011 and 26 in 2013. He has been a Blank Czech in this series with a 0-0—0 line in four games and zero shots in Game 4. He hasn’t scored a goal since Game 6 of the conference semifinals. It’s time to swap the Ambien for a double shot of espresso to get No. 46’s blood pumping and his stick producing.
We’ve seen the Bruins seize this series in dominating spurts. St. Louis no doubt has something to do with it, but it feels like the Bruins are coasting along, flexing their might and muscle for stretches like the second period of Game 1 or the five-goal fusillade of the first two periods of Game 3 that chased Blues goalie Jordan Binnington.
They’ve also done it on special teams, where they’ve possessed the deed to the ice. The Bruins are 6 of 16 on the power play in the series while St. Louis is 1 for 13 with a shorthanded goal allowed, meaning the Bruins have scored as much on the St. Louis power play as the Blues.
We’re far enough into the series to know that the Bruins have a larger margin for error — and victory — than the hard-hat, hardscrabble Blues. They boast more speed, more skill, and a goalie with more precise rebound control.
But the Bruins can’t rely on that, especially because that margin for error gets significantly smaller without a fully-operational Chara and with the status of fellow defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (boarded into oblivion by Oskar Sundqvist in Game 2) TBD for the series.
The Spoked-B’s have to buckle down and bring their A game whether or not the man who wears the captain’s C takes the ice.
If anyone will try to play, it’s the iron-willed Chara, the progeny of a father shaped by life behind the Iron Curtain. He might not be able to move his mandible — ostensibly rearranged by the puck — but he can still move his legs.
Bad luck visited the Bruins. Now, if they want the Cup, it’s time for them to make their own luck the rest of the way.